Caring about the community

Parx unveiled tri-fold Student Empowerment Initiative at Bucks County Community College

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Strong minded: Ron Davis, Parx Casino’s director of diversity and community affairs, announced a $45,000 investment that will help support BCCC students, primarily veterans, mothers and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as they pursue higher education. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

When most people think of the word “casino,” they probably picture a cigarette smoke-filled hub of crowded poker tables, brightly blinking slots, and cocktail waitresses delivering drinks to gamblers who refuse to part ways with their lucky machine.

Like most casinos, Parx in Bensalem has no shortage of these stereotypical ideals. But beyond the glitz of the lights and noise, it boasts something that’s infinitely more crucial — a desire to help its community.

On Wednesday, July 11, at Bucks County Community College’s Gene and Marlene Epstein Campus in Bristol, a handful of Parx representatives announced a $45,000 investment to create the first-ever Parx Casino Student Empowerment Initiative at the college. The funds will be used to mentor and financially support BCCC students, primarily veterans, mothers and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as they pursue higher education.

The ceremony rightfully began with an address by the college’s president, Dr. Stephanie Shanblatt, who explained how the Student Empowerment Initiative will tie in perfectly to projects currently underway across all three of BCCC’s campuses in Bristol, Newtown and Perkasie.

These include a renewed focus on STEM education, with a new facility recently constructed in Newtown; a growing partnership with the Bucks County Workforce Development Board; and a future groundbreaking in Bristol for the new Bucks Center for Workforce and Economic Development.

“Everything focuses on our students,” she said proudly.

Next to take the stage was Ken Keller, president of the Bucks County Community College Foundation board of directors. According to Keller, the Student Empowerment Initiative is one of the most ambitious campaigns ever rolled out at the school, with the $45,000 significantly helping its multi-year goal of raising $4 million for student support.

Also present was policy director Ryan Skoczylas, representing state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, a former BCCC board of trustees member who was a key player in helping the initiative become a reality. Skoczylas brought attendees’ attention to the Parx team, explaining how 75 percent of all charitable money donated across the state comes from the casino.

“Without them, Lower Bucks wouldn’t be what Lower Bucks is,” he said, inciting a round of applause.

Ron Davis, Parx Casino’s director of diversity and community affairs, then stepped up to the podium, insisting his team of nearly a dozen members join him. From his pocket, Davis pulled what would soon become a beacon of hope for locals seeking higher education — the $45,000 check to kick off the Student Empowerment Initiative. Of course, in true ceremonious fashion, a blank, symbolic blow up check was brought out for photos.

Present were two BCCC students who will be directly impacted by their school’s partnership with Parx. Sean Peck, who is majoring in financial engineering and computer science with a minor in Arabic, all with a 4.0 GPA, represented the first piece of the initiative — veteran empowerment.

A young Afghanistan veteran, Peck will be the first BCCC student to transfer to Princeton University thanks to this scholarship formed exclusively for U.S armed forces veterans and their dependents.

Also in attendance was Olesya Nemesh, who represented the second piece — mothers’ empowerment. Nemesh is a mother of three who balances two part-time jobs while attending school full time. Through it all, she maintains a 4.0 GPA. The scholarship awarded to Nemesh is for female students at BCCC who support at least one child.

The third and final piece of the initiative is accessibility empowerment. Dedicated funds will go toward supporting the BCCC Accessibility Office’s new program ACHIEVE, which helps students with Autism Spectrum Disorder manage college-level work.

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Samantha Bambino can be reached at